In just 200 pages Patrick McEachern’s book, North Korea: What everyone needs to know , brings the reader up to date on the history, nuclear development, political leadership, regional dynamics and social and economic conditions of North Korea. And he offers some nuggets of truth that rarely make the headlines: “Kim Jong Un’s extraordinary weight gain while in office has been the butt of jokes, but morbid obesity raises serious health questions,” he says, further raises the possibility that Kim’s younger sister Kim Young Jo may be the apparent heir. In addition, he argues that complete de-nuclearization of North Korea may be out of diplomatic reach and, consequently, for South Koreans, acquiring nuclear weapons for themselves is an ever-present option. He also reminds us that for Koreans – both North and South – unification is the main goal, while other powers Japan, China, and the US have mainly other concerns.
Dr. McEachern’s historical review highlights a few things easily forgotten. North Korea’s economy was more industrialized than robust than the South’s as recently as the 1960’s. Only in the 1970’s did South Korea’s economic modernization clearly overtake the North’s. South Korea’s first democratic election occurred in 1988 and there was a peaceful power transition to the political opposition in the 1990’s, consolidating democracy less than 30 years ago.
Then there is the complexity of the region. US is the most important ally and China is the largest trading partner for both Japan and Korea, but relations between the two are complex. Japan colonized Korea and that harsh history is still living memory. As China rises, Japan as the larger country – in geographic, demographic, and economic terms – is less exposed; South Korea is more vulnerable. No wonder even with common interests, South Korea and Japan also have common frictions.
"North Korea: What everyone needs to know ®" by Patrick McEachern is published by Oxford University Press (2019). https://global.oup.com/academic/product/north-korea-9780190937980?cc=us&lang=en&